The last day of school in Ukraine is normally a festive occasion when merry students dress up and jump into fountains – and as tradition dictates, the smallest student climbs on the shoulders of the tallest to ring a bell that marks the end of the school year. marks.
This year, in the throes of a devastating war that has forced millions of children from their homes and reduced school buildings to rubble, many schools have done it on Friday by holding virtual “last bell” ceremonies online, with some children standing up from the outside. abroad where their families have fled to escape the violence.
Near the front lines of the war in the east of the country, a local official complained that children heard gunshots and explosions instead of the bell.
“The last bell did not ring in the Luhansk region today,” Serhiy Hadai, the head of the region’s military administration, wrote on his Facebook page. “The kids still in the area’s bomb shelters listened to the cannonade.”
In Luhansk, which is on the brink of being taken over by Russian forces as the city of Sievierodonetsk holds its last, schools have been reduced to “empty brick boxes” with wind whistles through shattered windows and desks scorched to their metal frames, He wrote.
In three months of war, parents and teachers have made efforts to provide education for Ukraine’s 5.5 million school-aged children through a patchwork of online and face-to-face instruction and even makeshift classrooms in subway stations, where civilians are hiding from Russian shelling.
Any semblance of continuing education can help provide children with some stability and a safe space to process trauma, experts say.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Education said some students would continue their classes until June because the war had interrupted their education.
“Despite the war, the last bell will ring,” Education Minister Serhiy Shkarlet said in a speech to students on Friday. “But it will not be heard by those children and teachers who were murdered by the Russian occupiers. We will always remember you.”
The United Nations has confirmed the deaths of 261 children in Ukraine since the Russian invasion, but warned the real toll is likely to be much higher.
A school in a small town in western Ukraine wrote on its Facebook page that on Friday students tuned in to an online ceremony in tears from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
The United Nations Children’s Fund also livestreamed a final bell ceremony for the country’s children, featuring a pop star turned soldier, a professor who taught from the battlefield and the frontman of the band Kalush Orchestra, the winner of the Eurovision songfestival.
The agency has previously said that two-thirds of children in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes as a result of the war.
“The war has changed our children’s everyday lives,” Antonina Ulyakhin, a regional politician in Dnipropetrovsk, wrote in a post on the occasion of the last day of school. “Many children were forced into adulthood early on.”